Definition of Art: 25 Diverse Perspectives To Understand Art Better

The purposes, motivations, intentions, and inspirations behind art are endless. The definition of art remains controversial and multifarious, but the influence of art gets better once you allow your conscience to absorb and understand diverse perspectives that art offers.

Being one of the most creative ways of expressing human experience, we have used art as a means of telling stories. May it be the story of a single person, of a community, or of a nation, art has in many ways contributed to the beautiful way these stories are told.

Below are a few viewpoints from renowned artists and philosophers for you to reflect upon

1. Art as an expression

“Art is a human activity, consisting in this, that one person consciously, by certain external signs, conveys to others feelings he has experienced, and other people are affected by these feelings and live them over in themselves.” – Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s famous “Expression Theory” centered on the idea that art elicits and provokes emotion in the viewer. Out of many styles of expressions, Abstract Expressionism is one great example where artists are empowered with the liberty to convey attitudes and emotions through nontraditional and usually nonrepresentational means.

The prominent definition of art always drawn toward the expression theory

Artists like Jackson Pollock believed that it was the viewer (and not the artist) who defines and interpret the meaning of the abstract expressionist artwork thus, there is no relevance on what artist thinks or conveys while producing the work. Convergence by Jackson Pollock is one of the initial art pieces of abstract expressionism and considered as the bravest action paintings ever made

“The modern artist is working with space and time, and expressing his feelings rather than illustrating” – Jackson Pollock

2. Art empowers our faith in the nobility of man (Humanism)

“Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand” – Pablo Picasso 

One of the most powerful shift resulted out of Renaissance period is that the Church was never a responsible source for their behaviour and beliefs towards God and fellow men and that they themselves are responsible for the actions. The School of Athens by Raphael remains one of the powerful representation of this shift in the human history and also embodies the classical spirit of Renaissance

3. The creation of beauty is art

“Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art” – Ralph Waldo, poet

When it comes to art, some may say that not all art is beautiful, that, in fact, it should not be beautiful, always. Beauty is what you make of it, what your preference is, what calls to your heart, soul and mind.

What is beauty in art? – Beauty is what we see as characteristic and harmonious.

Whatever different reactions art will about inside you, it is clear that the explanation is complicated and definitive. Every piece of art, whether a painting, a vase or a statue, will have different colours, lines and textures which will appeal to your soul and heart.

4. Know Thyself

“Creative without strategy is called ‘art.’ Creative with strategy is called advertising” – Jef Richards, educator

Art is a form of expressing oneself

Consciously or unconsciously artists are following Socrates’ command – Know thyself.  During this process, artists are exploring their subject, medium and material, rebalancing the spiritual value of those elements, thereby experiencing the subtle preciousness of their our awareness. This interaction is beautiful which in fact leads to the inevitable desire for an outward expression. Art is born here.

5. Art is freedom in every sense

“Art is meant to disturb. Science reassures” – Georges Braque, painter

The value of freedom in our creative expression cannot be overstated. What about aestheticizing violence? What about creating art in gigantic forms? What about choosing topics that are controversial? Different expressive media have a tendency to attract different personalities. Phillipe Perrin, known for his huge artworks revolving around the subjects of evil and crime, chooses subjects that have the power to instil immediate shock and presents them in a bold way that ensures they do.

One of the Perrin’s famous works, Bloodymary, blends the line between theatre, sculpture, and performance art through the lens of murder.  The artist uses unconventional medium and subject to place the viewer face to face with images inexorably tied to modern violence, subtly aestheticizing the violence in art. The true meaning of art can be multifarious, but the purpose of art is met when such artists like Perrin uses art in innovative and unconventional ways.

6. Art sends strong messages from the sidewalk to the world at large

“Speak softly, but carry a big can of paint” – Bansky 

Street art has proven itself to be a true expressive art form. It is not an inferior form of political outcry nor is it the indifferent rebellion of a disaffected youth. Street art thinks, feels, and evokes thought and emotions in the people that view it with an open mind.

Using iconic imagery that is often recognizable regardless of language, the street artist is able to speak his opinions and solutions to a global audience, making this a rapidly advancing form of art the world over.

7.  Art is the most intense mode of individualism

“Art is either plagiarism or revolution” – Paul Gauguin, painter

Famous artist Paul Gauguin once written – “Gauguin once written – “One must always feel the plane, the wall; tapestries need no perspective”

Paul Gauguin’s art, style and legacy reflected strongly in his artworks and often dismantled the traditional definition of art. Gauguin was once of a few ordinary men that were able to leave mundane life to realize and fulfill a dream – to become an artist. Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? by Paul Gauguin is a great example of individualism where Gauguin said to read from right to left instead of from left to right – which in fact provides an entirely different perspective to the reader, which itself shows the true power and meaning of ar, and improves your mental state to a quality state

8. Art shifts realism into reality

“Pop Art looks out into the world. It doesn’t look like a painting of something; it looks like the thing itself.” – Roy Lichtenstein

We’re living in a time where our beliefs and messages must be braver and rendered more boldly than ever before. Popular culture was shrouding everything in the 1950’s and 60’s in America, and maintaining the status quo became more important than ever. The power of pop art has been emerging since then and continuously breaking all conformist perspectives and definitions of art

Whereas abstract artists sought to let the medium control the image, such as in Pollock’s drops of paint, Pop Artists went beyond realism into reality.

9. Great art tells meaningful stories

“Art does not reproduce what is visible; it makes things visible.” Paul Klee, artist

The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau – One of the most perceptible modern pieces of art, currently resides in MoMA Newyork,  has been considered as one of the many inspiring works by poets and musicians and also frequently parodied. In this masterpiece, both, lion and woman displays a calm demeanour on this artwork, but actually, both are on the alert warning that the trust between two worlds may get violated anytime.

10. Art validates our sorrows

“Art grows from joy and sorrow, but mostly from sorrow. It grows from human lives” – Edvard Munch

Art helps us see that sorrow can be beautiful and noble and still be one aspect of a good life. Art also helps us to suffer alone without the input of society so that we can show a dignified face to the world in our public sorrow. The true meaning of art lies in the emotion, considering sorrow is one prominent expression that we embody, art always validates our sorrows. “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” said Frida Kahlo, a great artist who infused her canvas with her native Mexican birthright and the historical epochs of her life.

11. Art is a personal act of courage

“Art is a personal act of courage” – Seth Godin

Courage is more important than creativity. Great art comes from the heart, doesn’t come from doing what you’re told. The mesmerizing charm of a great work of art doesn’t come from what is painted on the canvas. Rather, it comes from what was in the artist’s heart while he was painting. Franz Krueger’s The Parade auf Opernplatzis a great example of that. Krueger shows us that true art can be created only through courage, strength of character, and determination. The meaning of art implies a personal and open proliferation of your thoughts.

12. Art is the signature of civilizations

“Art is the Queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Humanity advances on the great foundations built by ancestors. We transform the heritage of the past, learn the social aspects, identify new opportunities and invent new ways of life. In this journey, the past lives remain as a reference point as a subtle guide to build great things in this modern world.

At Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, you will be amazed by the galleries of  “The art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and later South Asia” section, where you will experience some of the finest masterpieces from the Islamic world, moreover enables you to understand the artistic and scientific heritage of an entire civilization. Rightly said by Roger Seruton, the culture of civilization is the art and literature through which it rises to consciousness of itself and defines the vision of the world

13. Art embodies power and lustre of color

“Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment” – Claude Monet

Colors are powerful. Doesn’t matter what you might be creating now – a painting, or a powerpoint presentation, or an illustration –  your eyes must be straying over a palette, splashed with many colors, choosing the right one to add to your work.  To a sensitive soul, the impact of a perfect color combination is deeper and intensely moving.

Visual art always played an important role for artists to convey the life, lustre and power of life through colors

14. Art is attitude

“Art, freedom and creativity will change society faster than politics”- Victor Pinchuk

Art has taken a different dimension to think, feel and evoke thoughts in the people that view it with an open mind. Art represents the attitude either of an artist or of a belief system. Street art is often considered as vandalism, but it is executed with purpose, design, technique and intention. Street art heightens our experience of the visual landscape outside museum walls.

15. Art is the highest form of hope

“Art is not a thing; it is a way.” Elbert Hubbard, artist

Art can move us to tears. Beautiful art can bring tears of joy when we see a painting, sculpture or photograph of people or creatures experiencing things we want to experience. Experiencing such heart-warming feelings about it encourages us to hope for the same thing for ourselves.

Mutiny of Colours, A Project of Love, Peace and Unity by Iranian Street Artists is one great example. The powerful messages of peace, love, and hope in a country torn apart by internal conflicts are represented by Iranian street artists through their art, and mostly these works grow in all endless direction, both metaphorically, conceptually and physically.

16. Art is about two things – Life and Death

“The goal of all life is death” – Sigmund Freud

Many artists have used death as a theme for art. By giving death as a central theme, artists force us to confront the reality of birth and death within the same frame. Hope II by Gustav Klimt is one great art – represents a pregnant woman and the weight of hope the protagonist carried in her womb. The definition of art lies around the diverse perspectives of life and death

Birth and death exist side-by-side, suspended in equilibrium, collaborators in the appetite of living.

17. Art rebalances our life

“Art is like soup. There will be some vegetables you don’t like but as long as you get some soup down you it doesn’t matter.” George Wyllie, Sculptor

Viewing art that depicts situations and feelings outside of what we normally experience on a daily basis helps us attain balance in our emotions by filling those voids.

We gain balance through art by taking a moment to observe, judge, and appreciate things we don’t normally see and our responses to them.

18. Art can be surreal

“Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos” – Stephen Sondheim

Surrealism – a philosophical and artistic movement that explored the unconscious mind – reveals human emotions and desires in an irrational, powerful, poetic and revolutionary way. The concept has a greater relevance considering it brought out the repressed inner worlds of sexuality, violence, dream and desire.

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali shows us a few seemingly soft or melted pocket watches lying about in an open land.  Dali’s message was to show that time and space are relative and that we, in fact, live in a universe of complete disorder.

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali

19. Art is You

“Art is anything you can get away with”- Andy Warhol

Art helps us to complete our own unformed thoughts and ideas. We have an ‘aha’ moment when we see a piece of art that perfectly captures a feeling or thought we have had that we couldn’t express. When this happens, we have gained a new knowledge through the art that we can now communicate to ourselves and to others. This why the best possible definiton of art is YOU.

20. Art is discovery and exploration

“Art is a discovery and development of elementary principles of nature into beautiful forms suitable for human use”- Frank Lloyd Wright

Is it not more remarkable when a natural talent emerges from nothingness to produce a work of art with an organic honesty that might have been wiped out by years of training in established structures, conventions, and accepted wisdom?

One such unlikely place was a tax collector’s office in Paris, and its unlikely talent came in the form of a Laval­born son of a plumber named Henri Rousseau. The majority of Rousseau’s life is somewhat cloudy, and with good reason—it is wholly unexceptional.

The Snake Charmer by Henri Rousseau is a dream­like depiction of mysterious human and animal forms in a jungle scene. This work is a testament to the attention Rousseau received from prominent artists during his time.

21. Art empowers the heart of people

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” – Edgar Degas

When activists are showing images of children suffering from poverty or oppression in their campaigns, this is the art pulling the heartstrings of society’s elite and powerful to make changes. Such moments truly validate the existence and definition of art

When photographers publish the photos of war-torn areas, it catches the attention of masses whose hearts reach out for those who need help. When the artist creates great music and movies, it entertains people around the world. This is art, making a difference in society.

22. Culture is a great friend of art

“Art speaks the soul of its culture” – Abby Willowroot

Art is also a remarkable mode of depicting culture from all over the world. The definition of art may vary, but at the end art and culture complement each other very well

When you see a Zen garden in Sydney or San Francisco, you know that it’s a practice that originated from China. When you see paper swans swarming a beautiful wedding ceremony, you know that this is origami, an art that came from Japan. When you see films featuring Bollywood music and dancing, you know that it’s a movie from India. Destinations like Newyork, Berlin, Prague, Sao Paulo, UAE etc. are on a helm of cultural revolution to uplift their cities with art, design and imagination

23. Art is activism

“Art resides in the quality of doing, process is not magic.” – Charles Eames

Art has been used many times to represent the isolation, the claustrophobia, and anxiety of our society due to the tough political times that we’re living at present. Tetsuya Ishida, a Japanese artist, portrayed the Japanese life about the social, economical and academic educational structures. Many of his works exposed the Japanese people’s trials in trying to acclimate to the changes involving social and technological contemporary life. Read – Tetsuya Ishida – Saving the World With A Brushstroke

Similarly, a lot of street art has an obvious, or sometimes very subtle, anti-establishment hint in it. The very mediums it uses, owned by states or corporations, are protected by law from the artist but are used without regard or in spite of it. That illegality is often a part of the message

24. Art is harmony

“Art is harmony” – George Seaurat

The power of art lies neither in the image nor the emotions it arouses in the viewer, rather its greatness is derived from understanding the creative forces which inspired the masterpiece. This is the fundamental definition of art. Harmony is an subjective concept, rather it emerges within a context that many factors come together. Goya’s black paintings series is a great example that proves this theory. Today, although we are exposed to images of gore, misery and grief, much of it is sanitized and censored. Goya, on the other hand, unabashedly captures human trauma and sorrow in paint.

25. Art as Therapy

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”- Thomas Merton

In the famous book Art as Therapy, the authors have outlined seven functions of art and explain how art helps us grow and evolve in our understanding of ourselves, each other, and the world we live inTaking your time to mindfully observe artwork can be of true value to your emotional well-being.

Conclusion: The definition of art remains inconclusive

What is art?’— one question continuously steers educators, performers, practitioners and philosophers to engage in deep analysis. But no matter what the definition of art may be, the experience it delivers finally matters, and probably one reason it has been around us for as long as humans have existed. Whether or not we are aware of it, we allow art to affect our lives one way or another.

You may not know it, but your daily existence can be much more colourful with the presence and influence of art, and it only gets better once you allow your own creativity and imagination take a turn for good.

So go ahead and open yourself up to art. It will be worth the change.


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